by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 14, 2007
IS GREG PALAST THE LAST OF THE MUCKRAKERS?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Bill Moyers' documentary, "Buying the War," shown last month on PBS, painstakingly showed how most of the press willingly bought into the lies of the Bush Administration and supported the worst foreign policy blunder this nation has ever committed - the invasion of Iraq.
I say most of the press, because there were a few honorable exceptions.
The Knight-Ridder News Service produced the most accurate reporting, but its work was ignored because the chain didn't have a paper in New York or Washington. Journalists from beyond the Beltway - reporters such as Walter Pincus, Seymour Hersh, Robert Parry and James Bamford, independent thinkers such as Lewis Lapham and Michael Massing, columnists such as the late Molly Ivins and James was all lies.
The information debunking the Bush Administration's case for war was out there. Unfortunately, it wasn't in The New York Times or The Washington Post, which put the pro-war stories out front and buried the skeptical stories inside. It wasn't on the network evening news or on any of the cable-tv shoutfests. It wasn't in Time or Newsweek. You had to read it in The New Yorker or in little publications such as The Nation, The Progressive, Harper's or The New York Review of Books. You had to hear it on Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now!" or read it on Websites such as Common Dreams, AlterNet or Truthout.
The truth was out there, but as usually is the case, it was not in a place where most Americans could see it.
That's the handicap that investigative reporter Greg Palast labors under.
His 2006 book, "Armed Madhouse," now out in a paperback edition, is a worthy sequel to his 2002 book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." His credentials as one of the best in his field are unchallenged. His writing is a cross between Seymour Hersh and Mickey Spillane. He is as tenacious as they come. Yet his work languishes in the shadows because no major American media outlet has the courage to hire him.
Instead of being on "60 Minutes," Palast's television work is seen in Britain on the BBC's "Newsnight" and on "Democracy Now!" in the United States. Instead of appearing in The New York Times Magazine or the Wall Street Journal, his print exposÚs are confined to The Guardian in Britain and Harper's in the United States. Unless you troll the left-of-center Web sites regularly, you are unlikely to encounter his work.
That sad fact is all you need to know about the state of American journalism today. As Palast said in an interview with PRWeek magazine last year, "It's nearly impossible for raw, original investigative journalism to really make it into U.S. papers."
For the most part in America, that has always been the case. William Allen White, the legendary editor of the Emporia (Kan.) Gazette during the first half of the 20th Century, said in the 1930's that "it is hard to get a modern American newspaper to go the distance necessary to print all the news about many topics. On the whole, sooner or later in the long run, the American people do get the truth. But they often get it when it is cold potatoes, and does them no good."
Palast can testify to that. In November and December 2000, he reported for the Guardian and the BBC how Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris purged the Florida voting lists and prevented tens of thousands of alleged African-American felons from voting. Palast put the information out there, during the heat of the Gore/Bush recount, but no American media outlet wanted to touch it.
Prophetically, in "The Best Democracy That Money Can Buy," Palast wrote that "it would be a heck of a lot cheaper and no risk at all to wait for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to do the work, then cover the commission's report and press conference."
Sure enough, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission finally came to the conclusion in 2004 that what Palast reported on in 2000 did happen. By then, the Bush election team was already busy coming up with new ways to suppress the vote in Ohio, New Mexico and other swing states - an operation Palast details in "Armed Madhouse."
To avoid the "cold potatoes" syndrome, Palast also details in "Armed Madhouse" how the Republicans are getting ready to steal the 2008 presidential election and how to thwart their plans. Any intrepid American reporter who wants to have a scoop is welcome to take Palast's reporting and run with it.
Except that it won't happen. Investigative reporting takes time and money, two things that most news outlets are always short of - except when it comes to covering junk news like Paris Hilton or "American Idol."
But even more than that, most American journalists won't report anything as incendiary as what's between the covers of "Armed Madhouse," because doing so would be career suicide.
In the elite levels of American journalism, it's all about going along to get along. That's why official censorship isn't needed in the United States. The editors and reporters do a fine job of it on their own.
The most disturbing thing to come out of the Scooter Libby trial was the extent of how journalists compromised themselves to maintain "access" to their high-level sources.
The late, great independent muckraker I.F. Stone was a virtual outcast in official Washington, yet he consistently and frequently scooped the so-called insiders by reading official documents, talking to the sources that the insiders never bothered to speak to and carefully researching until the missing piece that makes the story complete turned up.
Palast won't be invited to any official dinners in Washington anytime soon. He knows Stone's method won't win you friends. But it will turn up great stories.
"I don't like my words trying to swim across the Atlantic," Palast said last year. "They could drown - and that usually happens."
"Armed Madhouse" is the life raft for those words. His book will be seen by too few readers and the people who need to read this book - the folks at the big newspapers, magazines and tv news operations - will dismiss it as loony leftist crap.
It's not. Like all of Palast's work, it's painstakingly researched and backed by facts. As he often points out, in Britain there is no First Amendment and the libel laws are the among the strictest in the world. There, your reporting has to be solid and accurate, because the protections that American reporters take for granted don't exist for their British counterparts.
Someday, Palast's work will be seen by millions in this country and not be hidden in the shadows of American media. But why settle for another daily dish of cold potatoes? Get "Armed Madhouse" and you will receive piping-hot explanations of oil-company intrigues in Iraq, GOP ballot-stealing, learn why New Orleans was left to die after Katrina, and why U.S. workers are working harder for less money. You'll get a tasty plateful of investigative journalism, well-seasoned with Palast's sardonic humor.
Most of all, you will get the most important thing a democracy needs to survive - the truth reported in a timely fashion so people can use the information and act upon it. That's what good journalism is supposed to do. That's why we need more reporters like Greg Palast on the case.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.